Turkey: No intervention in Syria! Stop the war on the Kurds!

Two articles on the current situation in Turkey and Kurdistan

We publish below two articles dealing with the recent developments in Turkey, the Ankara bombing of February 17, the ongoing war taking place against the Kurdish people in Northern Kurdistan and the challenges facing Rojava.


No intervention in Syria!

Build a united working class movement against Turkish war operations, both inside and outside the country

Murat Karin, Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI in Turkey)

On the evening of 17 February, Ankara experienced another explosion; the fear of such attacks has almost become part of daily life. The explosion took place in an area surrounded by major state buildings including the Interior Ministry, the National Education Ministry, the Court of Cassation, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Turkish General Staff and the Military Academy. A military shuttle vehicle was targeted; 28 people were killed and 65 people injured, according to official statements. The sound of the explosion was heard within a very wide area.

The regime’s list of ‘usual suspects’ for this explosion was, as always, the PKK, ISIS, the TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, a Kurdish nationalist group originating from a breakaway from the PKK) and the DHKP-C (a far-left organization of urban guerrillas). The PKK is known for being the all-time-champion of that list; after the explosion on 10 October last year, Prime Minister Davutoglu had stated that one of the main possible actors was the PKK: “Right now the organizations that are capable of committing such attack are obvious: Daesh (ISIS), the PKK, the MLKP (another organization of urban guerrillas) and the DHKP-C. An extensive investigation is being conducted now into all those organizations.” Even though they could not directly and exclusively blame the PKK, all the AKP officials and President Erdoğan himself implicitly declared the PKK responsible and made the HDP (People’s Democratic Party, the pro-Kurdish left party) the scapegoat for the explosion. They suspended the rest of their electoral campaign upon this basis. Davutoglu even stated the pleasure he felt following the rise in AKP votes after the explosion.

However, official statements after the 17 February explosion reflected a glaring deviation from the list of usual suspects: just four hours after the explosion, before the first aid to the injured was even concluded, President Erdoğan pointed his finger towards a power beyond the country’s national borders and emphasized the Turkish State’s right to ‘self-defence’: “We will sustain our struggle against the pawns who committed those attacks, and against the powers behind them; every day we will sustain it more decisively. Our determination to retort against attacks that take place in and out of our borders and target our unity, our togetherness, our future, is growing stronger by such actions. It has to be known that Turkey ubiquitously will have no hesitation in using the right to self-defence.”

At his press conference the following day, the Prime Minister confidently held the YPG (People’s Protection Units, the military units linked to the so-called autonomous region of Syrian Kurdistan) responsible, claiming to have documents, and stated that greater force will be given in retaliation:

“Yesterday’s attack was directly aimed at Turkey. Those responsible are the YPG and the terrorist organization PKK. Thereby, under any circumstances and anywhere deemed necessary, required measures will be taken against those two. Not one single attack has ever targeted Turkey without being returned. Decisions about how and where this return will be given in the most effective way are in our hands.”

The differences in the reactions of high state officials compared to previous bombings were not only about who was scapegoated. All the AKP’s scapegoating and perception management had so far been mainly oriented to national public opinion. However, the statements after the 17 February attacks were focused on international public opinion. Erdoğan kept emphasizing the right to self-defence, and on the extraterritorial source of the attack. Davutoglu made threats that even the positioning of Turkey in international relations might be revised after the explosion:

“Those who directly or indirectly support an organizational foe of Turkey will face the risk of losing their ‘friendly’ status in this manner.” As for President Erdoğan, he immediately engaged in efforts to “convince his friends” and, by means of great demagogy, did his best to explain how gruesome a terrorist organization the YPG was:

“For the international community and specifically in regards to our friends, to whom we constantly explained the character of the PYD and YPG in Northern Syria and their strong connections with the PKK, this incident will lead them to understand the situation better. We, of course, transmitted all the information and documents to them, we told them. However, what we said stayed with us. We’ll keep on telling it. Those who are in positions of responsibility may have not approved this but all people, I believe, all nations will accept our righteous claims and documents and call the others to account before history.”

As these words were pronounced by the regime in Ankara, the YPG rapidly refuted the blame. In his interview to Reuters, YPG co-president Salih Müslim stated that the YPG had never committed any attacks in Turkey, and this was no different from the last bombing:

“I assure you that not a single bullet was fired by the YPG into Turkey. The YPG does not see Turkey as an enemy. The Rojava borders have been the most secure part of the Turkey-Syrian border for the last four years. No military operation has been conducted by us. Those who know this truth the best are the AKP and the Turkish Army themselves. They are wilfully distorting the truth and trying to portray us as responsible for the explosion in Ankara.”

The final statement came from the TAK, who claimed responsibility for the bombing attack. An attack that the Turkish state, who “claimed to have documents” supposedly “proving” it to have been perpetrated by a YPG member named Salih Necar, was now claimed by the TAK, stating that the perpetrator was a TAK member named Abdulbaki Sömer! Beyond any allegations from one side or the other, Sömer’s DNA was compared and matched with his father’s, so it became established that the TAK was indeed responsible.

When we sum up all these information and consider them altogether, here is the situation: the TAK committed a bombing attack at the heart of the state compound in Ankara, with the motive of vengeance and retaliation for the war the state has been conducting for months in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, Northern Kurdistan. Sosyalist Alternatif and the CWI believe that these methods bring absolutely no contribution whatsoever to the Kurdish people’s righteous struggle for liberation or to the class struggle. On the contrary, this attack contributes to thwart both by fuelling chauvinism and forms the basis for future state pressure on the fragments of democratic rights that we still have. It provides fuel for the Turkish state’s policy, not only domestically but also abroad. Such attacks undermine efforts of support for and solidarity with the Kurds’ demands, and have an adverse impact on the building of mass support, which is vital to achieve these demands.

This kind of attack is desired by Turkish ruling officials as a pretext for a military intervention against Rojava. An opportunity for justifying intervention, which has been pursued as a dream by the AKP government for years, was created per se, as the TAK served this pretext on a silver plate.

The YPG’s capture of new territory along the border, combined with the Russian bombing campaign of the last months in Northern Syria, have contributed to put the Sunni armed groups backed by the Turkish regime on the back foot, and threatened the cutting off of its supply lines to these groups; hence Turkey’s leverage on the Syrian power game as well. A military intervention would give the AKP the opportunity to try to both put an end to the YPG’s progress and reinforce its own position within Turkey’s national borders by whipping up further chauvinism against the Kurds. This could be done under the camouflage of the fight against ISIS, in an attempt to counteract the image of Turkey’s collaboration with the jihadists in the eyes of world public opinion.

The AKP has already started huge propaganda in order to pave the way for such a desired Syrian intervention, and the Turkish military has begun shelling YPG positions. But a ground invasion or an intervention with Turkish warplanes on the Syrian battlefield, if undertaken, could rapidly spill out of control and is likely to provoke explosions of anger among the Kurdish communities inside Turkey. The overwhelming majority of Turkish working people have no interests either in such a military adventure, the consequences of which will be unloaded on them by an exponential increase in insecurity and cuts in social budgets to finance war operations abroad. That is why it is vital that a united movement is built to oppose the Turkish army’s operations, both inside and outside the national borders, linked to an agenda of struggle for better living standards and against state repression on democratic rights.

The bloodshed in the Middle East is relentless. Apart from its consequences in international relations, a possible Turkish intervention in Syria will have no use but to intensify the bloodshed. What the Middle East needs is not more imperialist interventions nor more ethnical/sectarian polarization but the struggle for a Socialist Confederation of the Middle East, based on the mutual and voluntary cooperation and organization of Middle Eastern peoples and the working class. The path leading to this confederation is by opposing imperialist policies, no matter the country imposing them.

Stop the war on the Kurds!

Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party executive committee

A horror is being perpetrated on Kurdish people in south east Turkey. Since summer 2015, the Turkish government has declared curfews in seven provinces, enforced by tanks and heavy artillery. There have been hundreds of deaths and arrests, and a massacre in the town of Cizre.

Housing has been shelled and tens of thousands displaced. Civilians are shot at while looking for food. People die in basements, while blockades deny ambulances entry.

Offices of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party – a left, pro-Kurdish party) have been defaced, burnt and bombed. Nearly all mayors of mainly Kurdish towns have been arrested. Services such as education and healthcare are defunct.

As the Socialist Party’s sister party in Turkey, Sosyalist Alternatif, describes it: “President Erdogan and his government ended a ‘peace resolution’ process and started a war”.

This onslaught comes at the same time as major terrorist bomb attacks. In June, an HDP rally was bombed in Diyarbakir. In July, 33 young people were massacred in Suruç. In October at least 128 people were killed in Ankara when two bombs devastated a trade union and HDP peace rally.

The Turkish state has failed to investigate those responsible for attacks. In Ankara, the police blocked ambulances while the crowds were tear-gassed.

This February a military convoy was blown up, killing at least 28; the government blamed Kurdish organisations the PKK and YPG, which they deny. Eventually, the attack was claimed by TAK, a Kurdish nationalist group, exposing the lies of the Turkish government’s supposed “proofs”. Nonetheless the Turkish military had already started bombing Kurdish targets in Iraq and Syria, using the Ankara bombing as an excuse.

Why is this happening?

The Kurds are a stateless nation, divided across Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey since the 1916 Sykes-Picot post-war agreement between imperialist powers to carve up the region.

Kurds have been oppressed everywhere, but in the instability created since the 2003 Iraq War they have developed autonomous areas in Iraq and Syria. The spectre the Turkish regime sees now is that the ongoing crisis in Syria is breaking down Sykes-Picot, giving the Kurds the opportunity to progress further with implications for Turkey itself.

President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in the 7 June general election and the recently-formed HDP made an unprecedented breakthrough with 13%. New elections were called for 1 November, which Erdogan prepared for by declaring war on the Kurdish people, while stirring up anti-Kurdish nationalism.

In the second elections, the AKP emerged strengthened and able to form a government, but the HDP still managed to get over the 10% threshold for MPs. The violence and intimidation meted out on Kurdish provinces has continued.

Erdogan equates the PKK with Isis. There is no comparison, but the Socialist Party believes that individual armed actions are counterproductive, used by the state to cleave a huge division between Turkish and Kurdish people.

There is the risk of civil war – a risk Erdogan is prepared to take to maintain his own position and thwart Kurdish national aspirations.

A nightmare for the western powers

Turkey occupies a key location between Europe the Middle East, extremely important to European powers struggling with both a refugee crisis and catastrophe in Syria.

EU powers have made deals with Erdogan’s regime, including financial sweeteners, in return for Turkey preventing refugees crossing into Europe. In addition, Turkish and the US administrations reached an agreement to conduct joint operations against Isis, allowing the US to launch air strikes from the Nato air base at Incirlik. Turkey’s prime minister recently visited Britain and met with David Cameron about “resolving” terrorist activities in Syria.

In July Turkish planes bombed Isis bases in Syria for the first time. But using the excuse provided by the west’s so-called ‘war on terror’, it used these attacks as cover for a bombardment of Kurdish areas.

These are the same Kurdish forces that, with some success, have been fighting Isis on the ground! Last year, the courageous defence of Kobanê by the YPG (People’s Defence Force), the fighting forces of the PYD (Democratic Union Party), beat back Isis – although not without the almost complete destruction of Kobanê following US bombings.

The PYD is linked to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, a guerrilla organisation with mass support in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. Its standing has grown in comparison with the corrupt capitalist regime of Barzani in the autonomous Kurdish area of northern Iraq. It was the PKK that entered Iraqi Kurdish areas when the Yazidi community was under attack and played a large part in repelling Isis.

Now, as Russian airstrikes bombard Aleppo and the groups fighting Syria’s President Assad, the YPG has advanced into new areas. Russian airstrikes have not only targeted terrorist groups but (as with the strikes of Western powers) also inflicted civilian casualties, the destruction of infrastructure and a mass exodus of refugees.

For the YPG to secure popular support in those areas, it is vital to dissociate itself from such methods. Russia and Assad are only interested in re-establishing a brutal dictatorship. An appeal to the mass of the population, be they Turkmen, Arab or Kurd, to organise together is vital.

The Turkish state would rather see Isis win out than a Kurdish victory. Erdogan mobilised troops and teargas against Kurds and Turks gathering on the border wanting to get through to join the fight against Isis in Syria, yet has allowed large numbers of pro-Isis jihadists to cross its border.

Turkey and the Kurdish issue is now added into the mix in the struggle between the US and Russia in Syria. Tensions with Russia’s Putin regime erupted when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in November.

Russian officials blame Turkey for contributing to the failure of Syrian peace talks in Geneva, after Erdogan vetoed PYD participation. Now the PYD has opened an office in Moscow at Putin’s personal invitation.

Working class unity

The greatest fear of the rich, the big bosses and landowners, and their political representatives in Turkey, is the coming together of Kurdish and Turkish workers in a movement that could challenge the whole Turkish regime.

The Socialist Party supports the right of communities to defend themselves – whether in Turkey or Syria. We call for democratic, non-sectarian, multi-ethnic defence committees, giving the population an active role.

We support the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination including, if they so wish, full autonomous democratic rights within the state they live in, the establishment of independent states, or of a common state of all Kurds.

But the most important challenge facing Kurdish people – essential if civil war is to be prevented – is to make an appeal to working class people in Turkey. Many Kurds now live outside the traditional Kurdish areas and could build united action.

In such a terrible situation this could seem remote. But such an appeal, with a programme to defend democratic rights, for jobs and homes, for the region’s vast resources to be owned and controlled democratically for the benefit of all, could break through the fear and hate.

Workers and the poor in Turkey have nothing to gain from the Kurds continued oppression, which only strengthens the government and bosses that also exploit and oppresses them; or from descent into civil war, which would mean more death and destruction.

Turkish workers and young people have shown their readiness to fight. Three years ago a mass movement rose up around the environmental protests at Gezi Park. In 2014 workers struck against mine bosses after a mining disaster, and in 2015 car workers went on strike. Crucially, in October 2015, mass demonstrations and a two-day general strike took place in response to the Ankara bombings.

The HDP, along with the trade unions and socialists, should call mass protests and strikes against the war on the Kurds, racist attacks, police repression and terrorism.

It is a good step for Kurdish organisations in Britain to appeal to people here with a national demonstration. Socialists and workers organisations here need to build movements against imperialist intervention, and demand rights and decent conditions for refugees.

The different imperialist or regional powers, including the US and Russia, do not have the interests of Kurdish people at heart, they are purely interested in their own power, and will abandon the Kurds when they have no use of them anymore (as happened in 1991 when US president George Bush encouraged a Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein in Iraq only to leave them to be massacred).

However, by standing firm against all imperialist forces and reactionary regimes, and by championing the rights of self-determination, a movement could be built that would reach out to workers and the poor across the whole region. A socialist programme could unite people in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and across the region to repel Isis, the corrupt regional powers and imperialist forces in the region.

A voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East would enable all people to freely and democratically decide their own fates.

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March 2016